LEWISTON — Roland G. Fortin, 94, of 369 Webber Ave., Lewiston, a prominent retired local funeral director, died Thursday, Oct. 28, at Central Maine Medical Center. He had resided at the Clover Assisted Living Center in Auburn since last May.
He was born in Lewiston, Dec. 10, 1915, a son of the late Regent and Marie Gadbois Fortin. He graduated from Lewiston High School, Class of 1933, and then attended Renouard School of Embalming and Funeral Directing in New York City, from which he graduated in 1936. He served in the U.S. Navy during World War II.
On Sept. 19, 1942, he married Anne Zarkowsky of Auburn. She died March 20, 1981.
Mr. Fortin was a member of the Prince of Peace Parish, Holy Cross Church. He also belonged to several professional, fraternal and civic organizations.
He began his career in funeral service with his father, Regent, and his brother, Donat Fortin. After his father’s death in 1937, he and his brother bought a building at 70 Horton St., in Lewiston to be the home of Fortin Funeral Directors, now the location of The Fortin Group Lewiston. He retired from the funeral practice in 1975.
He was a daring entrepreneur who sought to bring jobs and ideas to the community. He went to France and secured the New England distributorship of Renault and Citroen automobiles. He was also an owner of Marcel Motors. He was also distributor of Caribou all-terrain vehicles.
He founded the Steer House restaurants in Lewiston, Winthrop, South Portland, Waterville and Bangor. He was a founding partner of Radio Station WCME in Brunswick which, for some time, provided French music to the Franco-American community of Central Maine. He loved sports and was part of a group which brought the Maine Nordiques hockey team to Lewiston.
He will be remembered for his friendliness, generosity, and up-beat attitude. He shared his expertise and life experiences with, and provided encouragement and optimism to, many area business-people and professionals.
He was a strong believer in physical fitness. Until last year, he exercised in gyms regularly either in Lewiston or in Florida during the winter. In 2005, at age 90, he challenged Jack LaLanne to four rounds of boxing. Mr. LaLanne’s wife declined the challenge in her husband’s behalf. But the challenge made national news. He was featured in the Sun-Journal on his 94th birthday in 2009, for being the oldest active member of Planet Fitness.
He was a friend, supporter and cut man for two-time world boxing champion Joey Gamache, and served most recently as a cut man for Joey’s son, Steve Gamache, in August of this year.
He is survived by Madeleine Bilodeau of Auburn, his long-time friend, companion, and caregiver, his daughter, Patricia and her husband, Lionel Anctil and his son, Roland R. Fortin, all of Lewiston; his grandchildren, Scott Anctil and his wife, Lisa, of Lewiston, Christine, and her husband, Patrick Garner, of Simpsonville, S.C., Daniel Fortin and his wife, Sunsearae, of Greene and Roland M. Fortin, and his wife, Maria, of Boulder, Colo.; great-grandchildren, Emily and Tanor Anctil, Patrick and Jessie Garner and Derek Fortin; his former daughter-in-law, Lucille Dumais Fortin; nieces and nephews; and numerous friends, both in this community and in Florida, where he spent many winters at Pompano Beach.
He was also predeceased by his sisters, Priscilla Paquette and Blanche Berube Leblond; his brothers and sisters-in-law, Donat and Alice Fortin, and Regent and Sarah Fortin.
Mr. Fortin specifically requested that thanks be extended to Dr. Seth Gordon who took care of him and every fall when Roland would leave for Florida, Dr. Gordon would say “I’ll see you next year.” Roland would reply, “I can’t promise.” ”Roland, keep going to the gym.”, And he did. The family also thanks Dr. Gordon, Dr. Robert Weiss as well as the staffs of Clover Living Center, St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center and Central Maine Medical Center for the excellent care they provided Mr. Fortin.